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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                           19
But the sound also proved to be harmless. It was like
the low droning of cockchafers circling among the leaves
of a budding birch-tree. Now and again a short, sharp,
rasping sound, like the evening croak of a corncrake in
the marsh, was added to their droning.
Then the cockchafers came in sight, dancing in the
blue frosty sky with glittering wings. Again and again
the corncrake croaked up on high. One of the cockchafers
hurtled to the ground with outspread wings; the rest
continued their dance in the azure sky. The elk relaxed
its muscles, stepped into the glade and licked the crisp
snow with a wary glance at the sky. Suddenly, another
cockchafer separated from the dancing swarm, and leav-
ing a bushy tail behind it, dived straight down into the
glade. It grew in size, grew so rapidly that the elk barely
had time to make one leap into the woods when some-
thing enormous and more frightful than the sudden burst
of an autumn storm struck the tree tops and dashed to
the ground with a crash that made the whole forest ring.
The noise sounded like a groan, and its echo swept
through the trees, overtaking the elk that was tearing into
the depths of the forest.
The echo sank into the green depths of the pines. The
powdery snow, disturbed by the falling aircraft, floated
down from the tree tops, sparkling and glittering. The
all-embracing and weighty silence reigned once again.
Amidst this silence were distinctly heard a man's groan
and the crunching of the snow beneath the paws of a
bear, whom the unusual noises had driven from the depths
of the forest into the glade.
The bear was huge, old and shaggy. Its unkempt fur
stuck out in brown clumps on its sunken sides and hung
in tufts from its lean haunches. Since the autumn, war
had raged in these parts and had even penetrated this
dense western forest, where formerly only the foresters
and hunters came, and then not often. Already in the
autumn the roar of battle in the vicinity had driven the
bear from its lair just when it was preparing for its winter
sleep, and now, angry from hunger, it roamed the forest,
knowing no rest.
The bear halted at the edge of the glade, at the spot
where the elk had just been. It sniffed the elk's fresh,